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Calls for psychiatric redress gain momentum

Calls for psychiatric redress gain momentum

Calls have been flowing into psych survivor groups around the country from people seeking redress over historic abuse received in New Zealand mental institutions.

Spokesperson for the coalition of groups Helen Gilbert says that since the groups first called for the Government to set-up a redress process in July there has been a steady stream of phone calls to consumer groups around the country from vulnerable people wanting to tell their stories.

“The redress process will provide an avenue of complaint for many more people than those currently going through legal processes. Thousands of people have gone through mental institutions in the past three or four decades. Many of them want to be heard but they don’t want to do it through the legal system,” she says.

“We want the Government to take urgent action to help us resource and set up this process.”

Ms Gilbert says the Coalition believes a redress process will bring a much wider understanding of abuses in the mental health system and the context in which they developed. It will also offer opportunities for healing and closure that will not necessarily be gained in a more adversarial court system.

“One of the stories we’ve heard recently was of a woman in her mid-seventies who was in an institution years ago She’s never talked about the issue and never been involved with services since she got out of the institution all those years ago. It’s had a totally traumatic effect on her life,” she said.

“Another call was from a man who was put in an institution aged 14 for being a stroppy teenager. He has never been diagnosed with any illness, and even today still can’t talk about the issue with his wife.”

The Coalition represents groups in Wellington, Porirua, Auckland, Hamilton, the Bay of Plenty, Christchurch and Rotorua and has recently been joined by a number of other groups from around the country.

It is calling on the Government to set up redress procedures similar to those established in both Canada and Ireland so that psych survivors can tell their stories, have them acknowledged and gain apologies and compensation for past wrongs.

“We are looking for a process outside the tradition court system so that people can be heard in a sensitive fair and just manner,” says Ms Gilbert.

“What we’re looking for is an alternative dispute process where people can gain acknowledgement and apology from the Crown for abuse at the hands of the state. This has ranged from appalling use of ECT, to the harmful prescribing of medication, physical and sexual abuse, seclusion as punishment and long-term unwarranted incarceration.”

“For many people compensation is not the issue – being heard and being acknowledged is. People want to make sure this kind of thing never happens again.”

The Coalition wants the Attorney General to appoint an inquiry team with equal representation from the Crown and mental health consumer groups to decide on the terms of reference and the process for redress.

“It is also urgent that the Government resource the process adequately. People with experience of mental illness are significantly less well off than the rest of the population – they have fewer social and personal resources to depend on. An unjust system has already cost them dearly and they shouldn’t be financially disadvantaged in seeking redress,” she said.

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